A barge carrying a shipment of food destined for thousands of people in South Sudan has crossed over from neighbouring Sudan, reopening a long-closed river corridor along the Nile, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today.
“This is the first time in several years we have been able to use the Nile River to deliver food across the border between Sudan and South Sudan, and we are grateful to everyone who made it possible to re-open this vital supply line,” said WFP Acting South Sudan Country Director Stephen Kearney. “This will make an enormous difference in our efforts to bring food assistance to people in critical need.”
River transport of humanitarian supplies across the Sudanese-South Sudanese border ground to a halt in 2011 after the border’s closure following South Sudan’s independence. Its resumption – made possible by collaboration between the two governments – will now permit the UN and its agencies to deliver much-needed humanitarian cargo to thousands of South Sudanese civilians displaced by the country’s ongoing civil conflict.
The UN agency noted that river shipping is not only extremely cost effective but helps to reduce dependence on air operations, which costs six to seven times as much as moving food by river and road. The initial shipment will now deliver a total of 450 metric tons of food for the towns of Renk and Wadakona, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, and is expected to provide food for an estimated 28,000 people over the following month. An additional 21,000 metric tons of food is expected to follow in the coming days.
In an interview with UN Radio, Challiss McDonough, a WFP spokeswoman, warned that the food security situation in the country remained “very precarious” amid continued fighting and the increasing mass displacement of civilians fleeing the violence.
The UN has, in fact, estimated that some 2.5 million people could be in need of food assistance in the first three months of 2015, especially if hostilities in the country continue through the dry season.
“It is a very delicate situation and we are very concerned that if the fighting continues in the New Year that we could be looking at a continued threat of a hunger catastrophe,” explained Ms. McDonough. “The river corridor from Sudan is something that has not been available to us for the last several years so we’re very pleased that the two governments have made it possible to reopen this very critical supply line.”
The security situation in South Sudan has been steadily deteriorating since political in-fighting between South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, started in mid-December 2013. The hostilities subsequently turned into a full-fledged conflict that has sent nearly 100,000 civilians fleeing to UNMISS bases around the country. The crisis has uprooted an estimated 1.9 million people and placed more than 7 million at risk of hunger and disease.
As a result, the country has experienced several intense bouts of violence over the past few months, including an incident in which the UN base in Bentiu came under fire resulting in the wounding of one child. Meanwhile, a prior attack caused hundreds of people to seek shelter at the nearest airport. Approximately 340 civilians took shelter with UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) troops, and then were escorted to safety.